In the latest installment of stories on the Atlanta Public Schools CRCT cheating probe, the AJC reports that school officials played down the scandal that now has escalated to GBI agents and special prosecutors investigating potential cheaters.
In reading the lengthy story — which I hope you all do before commenting — I am most concerned with the failure to release the University of Pennsylvania report that supported the suspicions of possible score tampering first raised by an AJC investigation. I am not as concerned about the omission from the blue-ribbon panel report of a single anonymous charge lodged against Hall. I don’t give much credence to a single anonymous complaint.
Take a look at the story and let me know what you think.
Atlanta Public Schools officials, including Superintendent Beverly Hall, carried out a broad campaign over two years to suppress mounting allegations of widespread cheating on standardized tests, an investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.
Public documents recently obtained by the AJC reflect an urgent, behind-the-scenes attempt to contain a scandal involving the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test in 2009. Hall and other district officials exerted far greater influence than previously acknowledged on a purportedly independent investigation of 58 schools with suspicious test scores, the records show, and withheld critical information from the public and state officials.
For months, Hall’s public stance toward suggestions of endemic cheating in the 50,000-student system bordered on aloofness. But the documents, which include drafts of investigative reports and e-mails, show numerous instances when district officials’ actions contradicted their public statements.
Hall pledged not to interfere in a state-mandated investigation. But the records show she or her aides had a hand in virtually every facet of the inquiry: from screening potential investigators to interviewing witnesses to crafting and editing the final report of the panel leading the review, known as the Blue Ribbon Commission.
In an interview Friday, Hall said she has done everything possible to ensure that all allegations were thoroughly investigated and denied trying to obstruct any inquiry.
“I really believe that this attempt to create an image of a district covering things up really is not fair,” Hall said.
Commission leaders also denied hiding key information.
But drafts of the commission’s report show a diminishing negativity in each major revision. In particular, two significant sections were altered or deleted after commission members met with Hall for what records described as a “talk thru-review” of the report.
The report also dropped any mention of the most serious allegation concerning Hall to date: An anonymous caller claimed that she and two members of her inner circle had condoned cheating for years and told principals to achieve test-score targets “by any means necessary.”
Efforts to downplay irregularities surrounding the CRCT date to at least 2008. Through the end of 2009, Hall and her staff repeatedly denied cheating was a possibility and, at one point, Hall signed a letter to state officials that gave false information about an inquiry into test manipulation at one elementary school, a transcript of an employee hearing shows.
Finally, officials withheld an academic’s study that largely confirmed findings by the AJC last year of statistically improbable score gains that suggested cheating. Not even school board members got copies of the study.
Nevertheless, the district brought in two experts to investigate.
The first, instructional consultant Douglas Reeves, said he observed teaching practices in the 12 schools that could account for the unusual score jumps. The district posted Reeves’ report on its website.
The other expert, Andrew Porter, dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s graduate education school, was hired to perform a detailed statistical analysis. In large part, he confirmed the AJC’s findings — a blow to the district’s attempts to explain away the “outliers.”
New records show Hall received a draft of Porter’s study on Feb. 22. He e-mailed her a second draft in March and his final version in May.
Hall did not share the reports with the Atlanta school board, members say. In July, when the AJC requested the documents under the state Open Records Act, district officials said they had no material from Porter.
It wasn’t until November, in the midst of the criminal investigations, that Porter’s report came to light.
Hall said she deleted e-mails containing the report. After determining the commission had its own copy, she said, “I never dealt with it again.”
– By Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog